Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Another Fast Casual Fish Option in Aliso Viejo

Fish District
26541 Aliso Creek Road
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

It used to be that you had to get all dressed up, get a sitter for the kids, and fork over half or your life savings to have a seafood dinner. Not so anymore. Almost every large strip mall has a casual fish restaurant occupying it. There's California Fish Grill, Spike's Fish House, Baja Fish Tacos, Rubio's, Wahoo's, about a hundred poke places, with many more on the way, and my favorite fast casual seafood-centric restaurant of all time, Slapfish. My uncle was really talking up one of his favorite fish spots, so we decided to join him at Fish District in Aliso Viejo.

Fish District has been open in this spot, sandwiched between Panera Bread and T-Mobile, since February. This part of the large Town Center shopping complex is thankfully a little less hectic than the rest of the center, so parking and getting around this area is a breeze. From what I can gather, this is Fish District's fifth location, with three of them located in San Diego county, and the only other OC outpost is in Irvine.

The menu as you would expect is seafood driven, with options including tacos, bowls, plates, wraps, sandwiches, and more. Ordering is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you. The menu board type above the register is a little on the small side, so I grabbed a paper menu and made my selections from that. The restaurant itself is pretty spacious, with plenty of tables, which are nicely spaced apart. It's a bright dining area, with white tiled walls, light wood flooring, and plenty of overhead lighting. Enough with the atmosphere, let's see how the food treated us.

My aunt Hiroko got the East Hampton Clam Chowder ($3.50) to start with. From my vantage point across the table, this looked to be a runny version of a clam chowder. It did not appear to have too much chunk to it, but there were no complaints from my aunt with this.

A little riff on one of my favorite items at Slapfish, Fish District also has their own version of Chowder Bacon Fries ($6). This, unfortunately, was not as good as the one at Slapfish. As I had seen from across the table, the chowder here is very runny, and in need of thickening. Positive points for the fries staying crisp under the weight of the toppings, and there was plenty of bacon included here, but that was about all I could say about this starter. Not awful, but when compared to others, it was not as good.

My aunt and uncle are not big eaters, so it was no surprise that they split this 2 Piece Fish and Chips ($9). Again, I did not try this, but it looked pretty good from across the table. It had a good looking batter around it and lacked the usual greasiness that sometimes accompanies fish and chips at other places. Again, no complaints from them with this plate.

Much like when I'm at a barbecue or Mexican restaurant, I almost always get a combo meal so I can try as much of the menu as possible during one visit. There were no combo plates here at Fish District, but I selected three different tacos to try; the Traditional Fish of the Day Taco ($4), the Battered Fish Taco ($3), and the Marinated Skirt Steak Taco ($4). Not good news for a seafood restaurant, but the steak taco was the best of the bunch. The steak was tender and came with plenty of greens, tomato, and sauce, which the menu said was Sriracha, but I know it wasn't. Whatever it ended up being it boosted the flavor here, and made this an above average steak taco. The battered Fish Taco ($3) was my next favorite. The outer casing had a nice crunch to it, while the inside was moist and flaky. The taco could have been made better with the inclusion of extra sauce, and fewer greens. The weak link here was the Catch of the Day Taco ($4). I did not take note of what this fish was, but it was pretty plain tasting, and the sauce and greens did not save this. The tortillas on all of these did their job of keeping everything together, but not much else in the way of taste. I'm definitely asking for more sauce on future visits.

Closing out our entrees, Katie selected the Fish of the Day Plate ($15). This comes with two sides, grilled fish, and your choice of sauce. On this particular day, Mahi Mahi was the chosen fish, and Katie could not have been happier with this plate. She loved this grilled fish, which was flaky, fresh, and made even better with the lemon tartar sauce provided with this. She completed her meal with quinoa and asparagus as her side items. Both got glowing reviews from her, and she loved the healthy aspect of this meal, which eliminated any guilt that she usually feels when she eats out. She's excited to make a return visit to Fish District for a repeat of this meal. 

My uncle Jerry raved about the dessert at Fish Camp, so we tried their one and only offering, the Bread Pudding ($5). This bread pudding came out scalding hot, was topped with nuts and a whiskey sauce. I liked this, but wish that the sauce had a little more sweetness to it.

Fish District ended up being fine for what it is, but it will not replace Slapfish or any of my other go to spots when I'm craving seafood. I'm excited that there's another seafood casual restaurant around, but I thought the food here was kind of average. There was not really anything here that popped, with the exception of the steak taco. Everyone we encountered at  Fish District was nice and made us feel welcome. This is another seafood restaurant option that won't break the bank.

Out of five drumsticks, (because my favorite fictional fish of all time is Jabberjaw, and on that 70's cartoon, he played drums in his band, The Neptune's), five being best to zero being worst, Fish District gets 2.5 drumsticks.

For more information about Fish District, head to their website here:

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